Harrisburg State Hospital (Historic Asylums)

Harrisburg State Hospital

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Note: The following museum information is from 1997. Please call to check to see if it is open, and to verify other details before going there.

Dorothea Dix Library & Museum Name:
Dorothea Dix Library & Museum

Harrisburg State Hospital
Cameron and McClay Streets
Harrisburg, PA 17105-1300


Open by appointment only

No charge

The Dorothea Dix Museum and Library was built in 1853 in order to enrich the education, entertainment, and general well-being of the hospital's patients. The Harrisburg State Hospital, formerly the Pennsylvania State Lunatic Hospital, was the first public mental health institution in Pennsylvania. The current Museum is housed in the original Reading Room for Women and displays many artifacts, objects, and photographs which document the history of mental health in Pennsylvania, as well as, the early days of the Harrisburg Hospital. Dorothea Dix was instrumental in raising funds for the Reading Room building. During the Civil War, the Hospital provided food and medical supplies to the soldiers stationed at Camp Curtin, six blocks away.

From press release information about the making of the 1999 Winona Ryder film "Girl Interrupted":

"Founded 147 years ago as the Pennsylvania State Lunatic Hospital by Dorothea Dix, a New England schoolteacher-writer-philanthropist who was also largely responsible for the early support of the hospital, its name was changed to the Harrisburg State Hospital in 1921, reflecting then-changing attitudes toward the treatment of the mentally ill. Although it is still a fully-operational mental facility with inpatient and outpatient programs covering a wide variety of illnesses and treatments, there were several buildings on the "campus" which were empty and not being used by the facility_perfect accommodations for the film company's production offices, transportation base camp and screening room (in what use to be the hospital chapel). In the case of Building 22, there was a unique opportunity to create the entire South Bell ward of Claymoore Hospital.

Production designer Richard Hoover (a 1999 Tony Award winner for "Not About Nightingales") and his staff of art directors, designers, set dressers and construction crews renovated 75 percent of Building 22. They created an entire ward of bedrooms, nurses' stations, a living room, a television room and several medical rooms out of the architectural shell of the building. Inside, they dressed and decorated the ward with everything circa late 1960s: light fixtures, furniture, even the color of paints used on the walls and ceilings.

The production design team also "decorated" many other areas of the State Hospital campus, including offices in the administration building and several hundred yards of the miles of underground tunnels that snake their way underneath the campus. Additionally, the design team landscaped much of the hospital grounds, according to the seasonal changes dictated within the script.

"The Harrisburg State Hospital is known as `The City on the Hill,'" says Konrad. "For our time there, we lovingly referred to it as our `backlot on the Hill.' It became a revolving sound stage for us, where we were able to build the sets to our specifications and use them as weather cover when necessary. We had incredible freedom in filming on the grounds. The landscape and brick architecture mirrored the backdrop of the story better than we could have ever imagined. It was a tremendous asset to the making of this film."

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